Scitech | Fate of military research regulations still up in the air

McGill University’s research policy will be updated this fall, a move that has student activists concerned about ethical regulation of future military research on campus. Initially set to appear before Senate in May 2009, review of the new research policy was postponed.

Although draft polices are not made publicly available until after the Senate review, the most recent research policy draft distributed to SSMU for consultation has removed the clauses that pertain to the review of military research.

The existing Regulations on Research Policy was updated in 1988 in response to a six-day student protest against the development of fuel-air explosive research conducted by McGill professors, who had received grants from the U.S. Air Force and the Canadian Department of Defense.

Recent controversy surrounds research on thermobaric weapons – another type of explosive energy weapon. As recently as 2002, David Frost, professor of Mechanical Engineering at McGill, published research aimed at making these explosives more “effective.” Though not directly funded by the military, the work was done in collaboration with military researchers.

Alexandre Vidal is a U3 Environment student and representative of Demilitarize McGill, a student group that describes themselves as “opposed to research contributing to the development of thermobaric weapons by the U.S. military.” He admits that at this point, the new policy could go either way.

“This could erase the clauses about military research policies at McGill, or it could mean that they will be improved to ensure public transparency and ethical evaluation of research that is funded by, or done in collaboration with, researchers from military agencies,” Vidal said.

Vidal did, however, express concern with the most recent policy draft, which has no references to harmful research in its preamble.

“This is why we proposed amendments to the new research policy,” Vidal said.

The man in charge of the review, Associate Provost of Policies and Procedures William Foster, did not comment on the draft policies, suggesting instead that questions regarding the policy be directed to those groups involved in the consultation process.

Foster did, however, meet with Demilitarize McGill to hear their concerns about the draft. Vidal said, “[Foster] was open to consider any concern that Demilitarize McGill may have, and said that he will forward our proposed amendments to the Research Policy Committee.”

SSMU is working closely with Demilitarize McGill to ensure students’ concerns are properly represented. Rebecca Dooley, SSMU VP University Affairs, and the 12 other undergraduate student senators will be voicing any student concerns on the floor of the Senate.

Since the policy is still under consultation and has yet to be presented to the Senate, “[It is] difficult to say whether major concern is necessary,” Dooley said. She added that as with any policy changes at McGill, the new policy will be inspected closely.

“There is ample opportunity for students to voice any concerns they may have,” Dooley said.

Demilitarize McGill will continue to seek ethical research on campus and is working with members of the administration who are responsible for the decision-making.

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